April 29, 2013

You Give Me Dates, I'll Give You Salvation - Week 36

Dear World,

France is raining again, and can't seem to make up its mind on whether or not to stay hot or stay cold.

Aside from the weather, it's been a successful couple of days. I just keep meeting more and more classy people. This week, it was a sweet guy we met through the English class. He came to church with us this Sunday, then invited us over to his house later the same day to give him a lesson. We got to his house, and he invited us into his private study covered with bookshelves filled with custom-bound books on world religions and history. As we perused his collection of private artwork, he offered us fresh orange juice and a plate of cookies before we discussed the Book of Mormon. It was a nice afternoon.

Continuing with the food (is that ALL I talk about?), we went to a member's house for brunch on Saturday. They live in an apartment building, so we parked in the nearby parking lot and got out of the car. As soon as I opened the door of the car, I stopped and thought to myself, "Is that ... do I smell...bacon?!" Just as background information, I haven't seen anything that even resembles bacon while living in France for the last 6 months. We followed the smell through the apartment building and up the stairs, and sure enough, it led us straight to their door. For brunch, we had a total and complete AMERICAN breakfast ... for the first time since the MTC. It was nice.

To work off the calories from the bacon, we helped a non-member family in Nancy move to a new apartment across the city. It was a challenge getting couches, bookcases and the kitchen table through the maze of spiral staircases, silly little elevators, and through the rain, but we did it.

In other news, we've been let in homes while tracting a handful of times this last week. Most missionaries get let in once or twice a transfer, but apparently some blessings have been coming down with the ice cold rain. One family decided to do an exchange: our Book of Mormon traded for a book of French poetry. I thought it was a good trade. I'll have to figure out a way to use that little book to ask some girls on dates. Ahem, when I get home, of course. I'll just have to work on my French cooking until then. 

Well, that's all I have to say for now. I hope you have a fantastic week. Congratulations to everyone at BYU who survived finals and are now at home.

à lundi!

Elder Wilson

April 22, 2013

Thanksgiving in April ... Only Five Months Late - Week 35

Remember a few months ago when I said that France doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving? Well, I was wrong. It seems that some families DO celebrate Thanksgiving, but instead of once a year, they celebrate it every single day.

Early last week, we called a member family to ask if we could share a spiritual thought with them. The husband answered by saying, "Well of course! Could you please stay for lunch as well?" I wasn't about to decline an offer like that, so Elder Meissner and I went to eat with them on Wednesday. We ended up eating more food during that lunch appointment than I have ever eaten at Thanksgiving, and we both felt like we were going to die by the end. After we left, we counted that we had 14 different dishes and 5 courses. I felt like quite the classy Frenchman as they popped a bottle of champagne (nonalcoholic, of course) into custom stemware and we clinked all of our glasses together. "A votre santé!" To your health!

Following the cheers, we had seafood served in shells, sausages, cracker ball things, celery salad, beet salad, some sort of radish dish, chicken, potatoes, bread and cheese, raw salmon, ham, an apple tart, cake, and some sort of ice cream. 

Remind me. How exactly do the vast majority of French people stay in shape?

Man, being a missionary is tough. I'll write that sentence again, and you need to read it as if I was saying it sarcastically. Man, being a missionary is tough. I'm just kidding though, because it really is. But for those few hours, it was slightly less tough. The meal was made complete when one of them fell asleep in between the 4th and 5th courses and when they pulled out the huge book of family photos.

As they were showing us pictures, they started telling a heartfelt story about the death of the wife's mother. As everyone was grieving for the loss of the mother in the story, Elder Meissner suddenly thought of something unrelated and started laughing. We're hoping they didn't notice that he accidentally laughed at the story of their dead mother, but they apparently weren't offended, because they invited us to come back soon. We had to leave early and they didn't have time to finish the family photo book. You don't have to ask us twice.

The next day, we worked off some of the thousands of calories from the meal by hauling wood in a forest for 4 hours like we did last week. It didn't rain this time though, so the work in the forest was more enjoyable. After the wood, we went over to a less-active member's house to start him on a stop-smoking program. It's been four days since he's smoked a cigarette, so we're hoping it'll work!

After being frujed (missionspeak for being stood up for an appointment) twice on Saturday, Elder Meissner and I took to knocking on doors, as usual. We prayed to know where we should go, and at the end of the night, a family let us in. Again. A FAMILY let us in. I don't know how frequently that happens in other missions, but I'm fairly certain that was the first time I've been let in while knocking on doors to a nice, normal, Catholic, French family. We sat down at their dinner table to share the Book of Mormon with them, and they offered to feed us dinner, as is the French way. Food all the time. We'll see if anything comes from it, but it was a nice reward at the end of a long day.

Well, I hope everyone is having a beautiful 22nd of April. I left exactly 8 months ago from today. What the?! 

Catch ya in seven.

Elder Wilson

We found the Shire! It's in Toul!

Yeah, just the moat and the Cathedral fortress of Toul

April 15, 2013

Lumberjacks for the Day - Week 34

Good morning, world! I hope the weather in America has been as nice as it is in France. Time to say goodbye to the suit jackets and umbrellas. 

This last Wednesday was quite the crazy day. Let's review.

Elder Meissner had a medical appointment at a hospital in his old area, so we got on a train and sped at 300 km/hour to Paris. The train got in an hour or two before the appointment, so we had some time to see a few things on our way to the hospital. We walked past the Louvre, Place de la Concorde and the Eiffel Tower, taking some pictures en route. Then, we went off to the hospital. I don't know how Elder Meissner is such a popular guy in the French hospital, but he walked in there like he owned the place and knew a good amount of doctors and nurses that worked there. 

Anyway, he had his appointment, we grabbed lunch while waiting for the results, and came back to find out he had to get a blood transfusion. We weren't anticipating that he would have to get that done, and we missed our train back home while we were waiting there in the hospital. The tickets are usually exchangeable, so Elder Meissner finished his medical stuff and we raced through the Paris metro to get to the train station. I seem to have an unusual habit of needing to sprint through the metros to catch a train. Anyway, we got there and waited in line for a half an hour, only to find out that we had barely missed the deadline for exchanging the ticket. So, we were stuck in the middle of Paris at the train station with no way home and no way to purchase another return ticket.

After thinking for a minute, I called the zone leaders in Paris and told them to sprint to the train station as fast as possible so that they could buy us tickets. They have a mission credit card in their possession. They agreed to try and 20 minutes later, they ran in the station, dripping wet from the rain... just in time to watch the last remaining train to Nancy pull away from the station. So, we were stuck again, with no trains left for the day and nowhere to stay the night. Luckily, the Mandarin-speaking Elders in Paris were nice enough to let us stay with them until the next train in the morning.

We eventually made it back home, and I went on an exchange with good ol' Elder Oliverson from the MTC. He's the man. We went to a member's house to do service, and he took us into a dense forest in the middle of nowhere. From out of the back of his car, he pulled out a chainsaw, and we spent the next three hours cutting down wood and stacking it into piles. We felt so manly being lumberjacks for the afternoon with nothing to do except cut some wood. Too bad we forgot our plaid shirts and our beards at home.

Welp, time's up. I hope everyone enjoys the marvelous springtime, and I'll see ya next week.

Elder Wilson

Thank heaven for Elder Oliverson!

April 08, 2013

Black Pancakes - Week 33

Well, Elder Hunter is dead, and I killed him. One point for Elder Wilson. He's on the other side now, hanging out with his family and friends over in California. Right before he went home, we went around and visited families in the branch so he could say goodbye. As a bit of background information, Elder Hunter is known for his unnatural ability to be given gifts by EVERYONE. His suitcases are full of things like crocodile skin belts, French shirts, and cologne that people have given him throughout his mission. So, with Elder Hunter's talent of receiving gifts, our tour around the city to say goodbye soon turned into a tour around the city to collect presents and precious family heirlooms. I don't know how he does it, and I'm still working on figuring it out. My current theory is hypnosis. As Elder Hunter was packing his suitcases for the last time, he found out that he had been given so many gifts throughout the course of his mission that he had to leave some things behind. I was there to help him out, of course, and was the recipient of a good number of cool things.

As a replacement, I have Elder Meissner, the Austrian. Not only does Elder Meissner speak German, but he is also a singer. Multi-talented, huh? He was part of a famous Vienna Boys' Choir and has traveled around the world to sing. So maybe by the end of the transfer, I'll not only be able to speak German, but I'll be able to sing German. It doesn't even have to be in German; I'd be content if Elder Meissner just taught me how to sing.

Yesterday was General Conference, and we were able to get our district together to watch it in English. We got to sprawl out on leather couches and eat cookies and chocolate chip pancakes both during and in between the sessions. It was a great couple of days, though I found out that my pancake-making skills need a bit of a refresher. The other Elders didn't quite buy my excuse that the reason why the pancakes were black was because I added a lot of expensive chocolate.

Well, there's not too much more to say, so you'll be getting a shorter email this week. Just know that we're knocking on doors, teaching lessons, and crossing our fingers for more miracles.

Happy Monday,

Elder Wilson

Missionary PEEPS that my Mom made and sent me for Easter.

Elder Hunter and I with Ginger the rabbit.

April 01, 2013

Magic Flying Bells and Exfoliating Waffles - Week 32

No, I wasn't crazy when I came up with the title. Both of those things actually happened.

Transfer 5 already begins today, which also means that I'll be killing Elder Hunter in two days. By this time next week, he'll be back in California without me. Today, we're going to try to squeeze in all the last things he wants to do before he leaves France. Most of them involve food. My new companion is named Elder Meissner, and he's from Austria and will probably teach me how to speak fluent German by the end of our six weeks. Okay, probably not, but that would still be nice. He's actually a transfer below me, so we'll have a fun time together as two new missionaries.

SO, for all of those who were not informed, yesterday was Easter. We actually forgot it was a holiday until an hour or two after because there wasn't candy hidden all over the apartment. In France, Easter is all about bells. The story is that on Friday, all the bells that chime in the churches leave and fly away to Rome for three days. These are probably the only three days of the year that people who live next to churches aren't woken up every 15 minutes by the chimes. After the three days are up, all the bells fly back from Rome to France, dropping chocolate everywhere outside on their way. So here, Easter is fueled by magic flying church bells filled with chocolate with Easter bunnies as their helpers.

On Wednesday, we made the second attempt to go to Belgium for legality. Luckily, the second attempt was completely different from the first. Instead of being stuck on the Paris to Brussels train for five hours, we were treated to first class seats and enjoyed waitresses serving us pastries, tarts and drinks the entire way. When we got to Brussels, we were able to spend our two extra hours going around to see sights and eating frites and waffles. Those were fantastic, by the way. If you have the means to go to Belgium one day, I highly recommend it.

Elder Price may have enjoyed his waffle a bit more than the rest of us. Most of the waffles had baseball-sized scoops of cream on top, his not excluded. Another missionary named Elder Simoes thought something was wrong with Elder Price's waffle, so he suggested he take a look at it. Upon finding nothing wrong with his waffle, Elder Price asked Elder Simoes what could be the problem. Elder Simoes suggested that the problem was that the waffle smelled a bit odd. This triggered the reaction he was looking for, and Elder Price leaned over to smell the waffle in his hand. Elder Simoes seized the opportunity and promptly dunked Elder Price's face into the mass of cream covering his waffle. Someone happened to have their camera out, and they got a picture of Elder Price slowly lifting up his head with his face, hair and ears totally covered in white whipped cream. Good thing cream and sugar probably exfoliates skin. Elder Price should be acne-free in 3-5 days.

After signing a few papers in Belgium, we all started heading back to our areas. Upon getting to Paris, Elder Christiansen and I noticed that we had a few hours until our train, leaving plenty of time to go to the Arc de Triomphe. We happened to get there as a parade walked underneath, so that was a cool coincidence. We also flashed our French visas to get free tickets to the top and got to fight our way through crowds of teenage girls screaming, "We're in PARIS!"

We left the Arc de Triomphe with plenty of time left to get back to the train station, but fate didn't end in our favor. The parade that had first been in our favor ended up getting in our way, and we had to jog all the way around them to get to the next metro station. Still having enough time, we got onto the metro and had a nice conversation until the train completely stopped on the tracks and stayed still for a good amount of time. By then, Elder Christiansen and I started getting nervous, and we ran through the next metro station to change lines, only to barely miss the closing doors. In turn, the next metro to pull into the station was late by a few minutes. Thus being thoroughly concerned about catching our train back to Nancy, Elder Christiansen and I sprinted through the train station and made it just in time to watch our train pulling away. Luckily, there was another train an hour later that we were able to get on.

That's the excitement of our day for you. In the space of a few hours, we were able to enjoy sites in Belgium, a first class train, frites, waffles, the Arc de Triomphe, and still had time to teach a lesson to the people sitting next to us on the train ride home. Our weeks aren't always that eventful, but they seem to happen quite often.

I hope everyone is having a fantastic day, and I'll catch y'all later.

Elder Wilson

Easter treats from the ward members.

Check out all these waffles!
(editor's note: He probably had no idea about the weird little boys over his left shoulder)

On top of the Arc de Triomphe